In nature, many species live the same habitat but perform different functions. A “niche” describes the functional characteristics of a species in its habitat. While a species’ habitat is like its ‘address’ (i.e. where it lives), the niche can be thought of as its ‘occupation’ (i.e. species-specific activities and responses).
An ecological niche is a role an organism or population plays in an ecosystem. The term niche describes the sum of all activities and relationships of a species through which it uses the resources of its habitat for its survival and reproduction.
A niche is unique to a species, while many species may share the same habitat. No two species in a habitat can have the same niche. Because when two species occupy the same niche, they compete with each other until one is displaced. The main available resources in animal niches are food and shelter, in plants moisture and nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen).
For example, different species of insects can be pests of the same plant, but they can coexist as they feed on different parts of the same plant. That’s because their niches are different.
Most birds build nests on tree branches but two birds cannot nest on the same branch. Each bird needs to find their own branch to nest.
Another example is forest vegetation. The forest can host a large number of plant species occupying different niches: the tall trees, the short trees, the shrubs, the shrubs, and the herbs. They vary in size and differ in their sunlight and nutrient needs, allowing them all together to survive.
An ecological niche describes how an individual organism fits into an ecosystem. To survive each organism has to establish its own niche. By establishing their niche, they reduce competition and increase their survival rates.